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A House History, Part I: The Killgore Mansion of Cooke County, Texas

Updated: Mar 18


House
Built in 1894, the Killgore mansion in Gainesville has seen better days.

Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas is chock-full of "homes that own you," i.e. when a person buys one of these large and impressive homes, the home becomes their forever project. Much of the south side of Gainesville has these kinds of houses -- one mansion fancier than the other one. These were the homes of the town's 19th and early 20th century merchants and cattle barons. They were meant to impress, intimidate, and show off their owner's wealth.


In many instances, the homes have strong kinship relations between themselves. A history of a house, especially an older home, is very genealogical, and it's fun to conduct a rundown of a home's past. For example, there is a solid relationship between the Killgore and Cloud/Stark mansions in Gainesville, and this relationship will be the topic of two articles.


Here's the first one.


On the northwest side of downtown Gainesville sits one of the prettiest yet also, one of the most dilapidated Queen Anne style structures in the Red River Valley: the former Killgore* house on Commerce Street.


The Killgore Mansion was built around 1894 for William and Mary Killgore at the intersection of Commerce and Scott streets, where it could overlook the area of town where the Killgores owned their businesses. William Killgore was a former confederate soldier from Tennessee who spent most of the Civil War in a Union prison. After the war, the Killgores, who had no biological children of their own, moved to Grayson County, Texas. Their household included two adopted daughters, who began living with them in the 1870s. However, the formal adoption did not happen until 1897, when both daughters were adults.


Once the Killgores arrived in Cooke County, they began buying property. They purchased the Brown's and Sacra's ferry sites at the Red River as well as the land surrounding the headwaters of Pecan Creek, all just north of Gainesville, which they then leased in tenant and sharecropping agreements.


A tenant's daughter, Lucille Spires, became Killgore's second wife in 1913, two years after Mary Killgore. Spires was 47 years his junior. By 1923, she became his widow and, according to his will, the sole heir to his considerable fortune, which of course included the mansion. But was she really the sole heir?


One of Killgore's adopted daughters, Maggie Killgore Horton, contested the probate. She had remained close to her father and mother, lived just down the street from the Killgore house, and her husband even ran the Killgore's department store. Her claim was that William Killgore's will, originally drafted in 1920 and which granted her a considerable sum of money, had been revised after 1922 while, according to her, William Killgore was incompetent to do so. By the time William KIllgore died in 1923, she was no longer mentioned in the will. She told the court she should be the only heir.


The contested will ultimately settled out of court. Maggie Killgore received twice the original sum of money granted to her in the original will, but the mansion remained with Lucille Spires Killgore for a few decades afterwards.


The same year that William Killgore died, his widow Lucille married the richest man in town, Harlan Stark. Their mansion on South Commerce Street will be the topic of the next post!


This history is recounted in the book published by Red River Historian Press, "The Stark Ranch of Cooke County, Texas: History that spans the Red River."


*Often spelled Kilgore, but the name on census records and other official documents, including the probate, spells the name Killgore.



Roof
North Texas's weather has not been too friendly to the Killgore house.

House
What a beautiful specimen of Queen Anne architecture! The house was built for the Killgores, who came to Gainesville by the 1890s and opened a dry goods business. They also bought a large chunk of property at the Red River.

House
The stained glass windows create wonderful colors in this 1890's house.

House
The entrance really shows the fine details of this true architectural gem.

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